“I‘m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” – the infamous line spoken in an eerily calm tone by HAL 9000. The movie scene would not have had anywhere near the same effect if the line had simply printed out on a screen, yet in reality it seems most of our first interactions with Artificial Intelligence will be via messaging ‘chat’ interfaces and not spoken words.
There have been a number of recent events that are shaping this new chat AI world into a more common existence;
- Microsoft released their Twitter bot ‘Tay‘ into cyberspace in March. First interactions were very impressive, having Tay being able to hold conversation with thousands of Tweets and learning via interaction. However, within the span of 24 hours the bot was taken down as it began to learn racist and misogynistic expressions, an unfortunate side effect of opening AI to public interaction
- Facebook announced the opening of its developer platform for Messenger at their F8 conference, with the clear message being ‘chatbots are the future’. David Marcus, head of the Messenger app had this to say:
“Our experiences with businesses, services and brands are super fragmented. We call them, fill out forms on websites, email and download apps. Bots can help automate many of the simple requests we have, whether tracking an order, checking in for a flight or ordering flowers.”
Chatbots have been around for a long time, although not as intelligent as they are now. Taking a trip down memory lane I remember using IRC bots in high school. These were simple command based interactions, not fluid conversations, but the premise was still the same.
- It was last year when I really got a taste for how powerful and useful chatbots could really be, when I used Slackbot (from the Slack IM app). Rather then filling out a form to put in all my account details, Slackbot asked me a series of questions and updated my details along the way, it was the most natural user experience I’ve ever had in signing up to a service.
Why chat and not voice? Voice recognition technology is already readily available, so why are we not being greeted by HAL 9000’esque voicebots instead? The most obvious reason; can you imagine a room full of people all talking to their computer or mobile screen, it just doesn’t seem practical especially in a work environment or public spaces. The more non-obvious reason; there’s been a distinct change in social interaction since the 90’s. Younger people especially are more comfortable texting or messaging each other, and this carries over to e-commerce and services, where more and more people prefer to purchase online rather than speak to someone (or something) over the phone. This shift is evident from the viral popularity of instant messaging apps such as Messenger, Snapchat and Twitter over any other voice orientated communication app.
The Facebook Messenger platform in particular is a very important space to watch over the next couple of years. Facebook has been very smart in separating the Messenger app away from it’s social media platform, allowing it to be used independently as a business/commerce tool. Developers especially should be very interested, because unlike developing for mobile or desktop platforms where you need to consider operating systems and devices etc. the messenger platform provides a single platform, instant marketplace for 900 million active users. The Messenger payment platform will also allow you to trade easily and opens up a whole new era for e-commerce.
And finally, what does this all mean for the Building Technology industry? Well we’ve all been wanting to talk to our buildings, right? What better medium to do so than via a chatbot. Consider these scenarios:
- Ask if you left the lights on in your office, and consequently ask to turn them off
- Requests for maintenance or automated tenant feedback
- After Hours Air Con requests
- Ordering a taxi or other services
Your first instinct may be that this is a security nightmare, letting anyone control the lights via Messenger? However, with Facebook as the backend authentication you could assign different people with different permissions just as you would any standard Building Management System. There may still be some time before these concepts become commercial acceptable, but the technology is certainly there to do it.